By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
There’s a lot of noise in this time of 24-hour news and even the most insignificant sports tidbit gets at least five minutes of airtime before fading into memory.
Most of these news bits really aren’t deserving of such over-analysis and can be easily distilled into two categories: trash or not trash. It’s difficult for a regular person to find the time to distill, but have no fear, I’ve taken it upon myself to do it for you. Here’s the latest edition of “Trash or Not Trash.”
I want to specify something before we start:
This is not about Derrick Rose.
Earlier this week, Tom Thibodeau was dismissed from his position as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rose was asked how he would play going forward without Thibodeau, who coached him for most of his professional career.
According to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, here’s how Rose responded.
I have a lot of confidence in myself. Thibs was just the coach that believed in me. He jump-started my career again and for that I’ll always be thankful, but for everybody that think it’s going to stop, kill yourself.
Later in the interview session, Rose repeated the phrase:
Like I said, for everybody that think I’m not going to play the same way, kill yourself, because I believe in myself.
Derrick Rose has had to deal with public relations problems before now. His sexual harassment case, which had been relegated to an afterthought outside of Chicago, has returned to the forefront – rightly so – during his recent run of solid play. He drew the ire of Bulls fans in 2014 for sitting out games so he “wouldn’t be all sore at his son’s graduation.” And there was this photo from 2009 of Rose purportedly throwing up gang signs. He quickly apologized after the interview, saying he used a poor choice of words.
But this isn’t about Derrick Rose.
This is about the phrase he used and the many people who defended it.
“A South Side thing”
The responses to Rose’s comments ranged from shocked (see the thread on Hine’s post) to scornful (Deadspin, of course). It was natural for some people to be in disbelief. However, after Bleacher Report’s Tyler Conway questioned Rose’s use of the phrase, Evan Moore of the Chicago Sun-Times rebutted Conway’s dismissal of Rose, saying “in no way was Rose advocating for suicide.” I’ve included Moore’s full tweet below.
A host of Chicago journalists and media members quoted Moore’s tweet in agreement, including The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg, Exavier Pope and 670 The Score producer and Regal Radio’s own Tony Gill. All of them pointed out that the phrase is a Chicago term specific to the South Side, which was why Rose used it in the interview.
While I might disagree that “kill yourself’ is particular to Englewood, Chatham or any other Black South Side neighborhood (a battle rapper from Arizona that I follow used it to end his rounds for some time), I agree with Moore’s assessment that connecting this incident with the civil case is a reach. I also don’t believe Rose was advocating for suicide.
Moore and others on his timeline went on to reference other instances where white writers incorrectly interpreted phrases by Black people, including an LGBTQIA sports blog who took former NFL player Steve Smith’s use of “I’m straight” to be derogatory.
I like Evan Moore a lot. He’s a writer from South Shore who’s grinded hard to get to the Sun-Times. I respect his work and his opinions, so in no way should this be taken disrespectfully.
He’s wrong here.
He, and anyone else who think this is just a local phrase that is okay to use, are wrong.
What This Means
This issue is personal for me, I’ll be up front about it. I’ve contemplated suicide for a good portion of the last four or five years. I’ve stood on the Grand Avenue Red Line platform, watching the train pull into the station, and thought, “It’ll be quick, and then it’ll all be over.” There have been a lot of sleepless nights and abject loneliness, and ever-present idea that giving up would be easier than pressing on.
The issue with writing this opinion from such a personal perspective is that it’s individualized. Not everyone has the same experience as me. It makes sense, from that perspective, to consider Tyler Conway’s opinion an “overreaction.”
Someone on Twitter compared it to telling someone to “kiss my ass.” Sure, it shouldn’t. But literally kissing someone’s ass, whether it’s a person’s posterior or an actual donkey, doesn’t really carry the same weight as literally killing yourself.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 44,965 people committed suicide in the United States in 2016, about 14 in 100,000 people. More people died that year from intentional self-harm than died from leukemia, breast cancer, alcohol, homicide or shootings.
1.3 million adults (about 2.5% of the US adult population) reported attempting suicide that same year, with 9.8 million (4%) entertaining serious thoughts about suicide. Those numbers have increased steadily each year since 1999.
I apologize if the statistics or the personal stories are triggering, but I want to get the message across here: while it’s very likely that none of you reading this have had a similar experience, someone you know probably has.
Then again, it’s possible you don’t if you’re Black. According to the same stats from the CDC, the rates for suicide in Black men and women are less than half those of whites or hispanics. (The attempt rate and suicidal thoughts are about the same.) This isn’t surprising. There’s an internalized idea that you have to be strong and brush away depression as a Black person, otherwise all the disadvantages and discrimination you face will overcome you.
Oftentimes, us African-American people tend to hold a lot of things in so there’s a whole lot of internal anger and a lot of built-up aggression that we just internalize and basically just go out into the world and act like nothing is happening. We kind of just let it roll off our shoulders and just try to keep it moving.
Such pressure might not manifest as self-harm, but it eventually manifests. All it takes is one trigger to push someone, and it could be something as simple as common slang.
Changing the Norm
One of the simplest tenets of communication theory holds that communication isn’t a one-way street. The message a communicator sends to a receiver is affected by the communicator, the receiver, the way the message is sent, and the ecology surrounding the communication.
As an example, when former Oklahoma City Thunder announcer Brian Davis said Russell Westbrook was “out of his cotton-pickin’ mind” after Westbrook made a savage dunk during a game, people who were listening to the TV broadcast were upset. Davis was suspended and eventually let go.
It didn’t matter about the colloquialism of the phrase or how long it had been in the lexicon. It mattered that Davis is white and Westbrook is Black and that phrase is no longer acceptable.
If you call someone a “fairy” or a “pussy” today, it doesn’t matter if you grew up saying it, or if everyone said it in your house or your family or your neighborhood, or if it literally means a mythical flying creature or a cat. If you those words with someone, chances are they’re going to call you out on it. Or fight you.
I don’t remember hearing “kill yourself” coming up. We had other ways of putting each other down, like saying something we didn’t like was “gay.” Eventually, most of society decided that wasn’t cool anymore and most people quit saying it. If society wills it, the same thing will happen with “kill yourself.”
However, if society defends it as “hyperlocal,” and brushes it off as a “South Side thing,” it won’t go away. People will keep saying it and it’ll become more normalized, and as it does, the majority of people will forget the original meaning of the words they’re saying, until someone does take it literally.
It’s a slippery slope, to be sure, but as I’ve detailed, I’m not the only one with this experience. I could not have been the only person who felt a certain type of way seeing quality journalists defend this phrase.
Bottom line, “kill yourself” is not acceptable for me to say and it shouldn’t be for you either. If you believe differently…that’s not my problem.
Chris Pennant covers professional basketball for WARR Media